Trial’s opening set the tone
Opening arguments set the tone of a trial.
Presenting its case first, the prosecution does its utmost to convince a jury the defendant is guilty. Next comes the defense, whose job is to sow seeds of doubt, to poke holes in the prosecution’s argument. Ideally, the two sides fight to a draw, leaving open-minded jurors anxious to see the evidence and hear the facts.
Former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial began Tuesday with as lopsided of an opening as we have seen. The first salvo by House managers included a compelling 13-minute video of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that was as unsettling as it was damning. The defense kicked things off for Trump with a rambling monologue that reportedly left the former president furious.
The prosecution took about 12 hours over two days to present its detailed case. Trump’s team made its defense in about three hours Friday. The trial was expected to conclude today.
Pundits have been predicting for weeks that there will not be enough Republican votes to convict. Some senators are reportedly worried about backlash from their pro-Trump constituencies. This fear concerns not only their reelection chances, but also the safety of themselves, their families and communities. As witnesses to the Capitol rampage, they know what sort of havoc a mob of loyalists can cause.
Despite the vigor with which House Democrats have gone after Trump, there is debate about whether his conviction and banishment from holding future office would help or hurt Dems in coming elections. Making him a martyr comes with heavy risk. If Trump remains a player, will the Republican Party be stronger or more likely to splinter? A CBS News poll says 33 percent of Republicans would leave the GOP if Trump formed his own party, and another 37 percent said they’d consider it.
Win or lose in the Senate, House managers are also making cases for the court of public opinion and the historical record. Recent polls show 56 percent of Americans support impeachment. In this polarized, closely divided country, that is a surprising majority.
Let’s take Trump out of the equation and focus solely on the seditionists who attacked the Capitol Building. If you have not yet seen the House video, as graphic and disturbing as it is, there is no understanding the siege until you do. This was not a lark. It was a violent assault on the men and women who work there as well as the institution of democracy itself.
Not everyone who ended up on the Capitol grounds that day was bent on murder and mayhem, but far too many were. Without the heroic efforts of Capitol and Washington, D.C., police officers, this nation could still be mourning fallen leaders.
America is not ruled by a mob.